Aug 12, 2020
Build Your Priorities Playbook: A Guide for Small and Midsize Businesses in the Pandemic
By Vistage CEO Sam Reese
The unpredictable nature of the pandemic has sidelined most companies’ long-term business plans. And while companies will always need to remain true to their mission, vision and purpose as their North Star, I firmly believe that leaders who focus on short-term results right now will be well positioned for long-term success. Because, ultimately, success begets success.
But it can be difficult for leaders to decide what to prioritize, even in the short term. In my discussions with leaders of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) I’ve heard firsthand how they are facing a variety of new challenges from inventory and supply chain shortfalls to employee capacity, facility remediation, and PPE for employees. The following “Priorities Playbook” shares ways SMBs are successfully managing toward new, shorter-term goals by focusing on four key priorities:
- Managing Costs. Many SMB leaders have been taking a careful look at their costs during the pandemic, and some were even surprised by areas of their business that had become bloated. Leaders can minimize surprises like those by more regularly assessing changing external and internal risks and opportunities brought about by the pandemic, and realigning their resources around those factors. By maintaining strong financial discipline, leaders can be better prepared for the unpredictable. When leaders operate a lean business, they free up resources to invest in innovation that can lead to new growth.
- Customer Management. Every employee needs to be in the customer management business now. The best leaders ensure their teams regularly connect with customers, listen to their feedback, and exercise flexibility. Customers will appreciate when companies are nimble enough to understand their changing needs and offer new ways to help. The work leaders do now to retain and strengthen customer relationships will pay dividends in the future.
- Talent Management. Without customers and great employees, there’s no business to plan for. And making sure the right team is in place who understands how to support customers sits at the top of the priority list. The best leaders are really detailed and purposeful about the people they are onboarding now. Leaders have an opportunity to hire new and diverse talent to meet new challenges and correct business vulnerabilities uncovered by the pandemic.
- Culture. Through this pandemic, I’ve been amazed to hear the stories of companies that just refused to quit. Their business and people are too important to them. If that determination and perseverance wasn’t a fundamental part of the DNA of a company’s culture before the crisis, that’s not something that can be suddenly turned on when things get tough. When companies have a compelling purpose that people can rally around and believe in, teams can quickly get aligned and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. Every good coworker has a passion to have a job that is relevant and important. Strong leaders give their people a voice in their organization, and ensure they have autonomy and competence to act. Disruption, uncertainty and remote working do not have to shatter culture. Culture can set you apart, help you retain and attract top talent, and make customers proud to work with you.
Although I agree with Peter Drucker’s saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” SMBs cannot afford to completely do away with strategic planning right now. Keep an eye trained on the big picture, but today’s “priority playbook” has to start with what’s right in front of you. Putting in place priorities to control costs, nurture customers, care for your employees and protect your culture are the best plans for helping SMBs not just survive this pandemic but also prepare for greater future success.
Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35-year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executives of companies all over the world. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.